I have gone through the archives, watched hours of footage and compiled a list of what I believe are the top 10 matches to have taken place in Super League since 1996.
Somewhat controversially, I have included the 2016 Million Pound Game on the list despite it technically taking place outside the top flight.
10. Wakefield 29-17 Castleford (2006)
It was an unforgettable night at Belle Vue in what Sky Sports billed as the ‘Relegation Grand Final’. Incredibly, after 27 rounds of Super League, the final fixture saw Wakefield and Castleford battle it out with the loser relegated to the Championship. It was an end-to-end nail-biter of a game in which the Tigers only needed to avoid defeat to survive, but they were unable to do so as they blew an 11-2 lead, with Wakefield benefiting from a few lucky ricochets to go in front, before James Evans’ late try settled the contest and condemned Castleford to the Championship.
9. Halifax 26-30 Bradford (1997)
Back when the destination of the Super League trophy was decided by league position alone, Bradford seemed to be cruising towards the trophy when they headed to Halifax in May having won all 11 games. However, when the Bulls found themselves 26-6 down at Thrum Hall, their unbeaten run seemed to be slipping away. But a champion second half from Matthew Elliott’s team saw them mount one of the best comebacks of all-time. Perhaps a series of try-saving tackles at 26-22 left the Blue Sox feeling as though they had done enough to win, but late tries from Jonathan Scales and Paul Loughlin broke Halifax hearts and gave Bradford another league win.
8. Hull KR 18-19 Salford (2016)
As mentioned, this game did technically take place outside Super League, but having both competed in the regular Super League season before slipping down to the Qualifiers, I decided it was too good to leave out. It was the second staging of the Million Pound Game, with the losers relegated and for a long time it looked as though it would be Salford. Trailing 18-10 with less than two minutes to go, Niall Evalds’ try gave the Red Devils a glimmer of hope, before they went the full length of the pitch with Greg Johnson touching down to level the scores on the hooter. Gareth O’Brien failed to add the conversion forcing the game into Golden Point, but he would redeem himself in stunning fashion with a seemingly impossible 45-metre drop goal to save Salford and relegate the Robins.
7. Bradford 30-31 Wigan (2007)
Odsal staged this incredible play-off encounter with the winners going within one game of Old Trafford. For 48 minutes that looked like being only one team as Bradford raced into a 30-6 advantage, dominating in almost every area of the pitch. However, in one of the most astonishing turnarounds in Super League history, Wigan refused to give up with Mark Calderwood’s hat-trick and Trent Barrett’s brilliance inspiring the visitors to level the scores at 30-all going into the final stages. Step forward Pat Richards to win the game with his first-ever drop goal for the Warriors, a truly remarkable comeback!
6. St Helens 16-11 Bradford (2000)
This was a game that swung one way and then the other, finishing with drama that you had to see to believe. Trailing 10-4, Bradford looked to have nicked the win when Leon Pryce’s 95-metre try and Henry Paul’s drop-goal gave them an 11-10 lead with seconds to go. But there was one last twist in the tale as in the final play of the game, Saints threw caution to the wind and kept the ball alive. With the hooter sounded and stuck in their own half it was going to take a miracle from Saints, and a miracle is what occurred. It started with a chip from Sean Long across the pitch in his own 20, with the ball lobbed from one side to the other in a bid to find a gap, and that is exactly what they found when they went ‘wide to West’, Dwayne West beating some tired defenders down the flank before finding Chris Joynt in support to win the game in stunning fashion.
5. Huddersfield 16-20 Leeds (2015)
Another game that produced quite remarkable drama as Leeds snatched the League Leaders’ Shield with the very last play of the regular season. Trailing 16-8, the Rhinos gave themselves hope when Tom Briscoe touched down with seven minutes left to make it a two point ball game. As the Giants tried desperately to hold on, they gave away a penalty with a minute to go and Kevin Sinfield notched over the kick to seemingly settle for a draw. By this point the League Leaders’ Shield was on its way in a helicopter to Wigan, but the Rhinos had other ideas. With the last play, Danny McGuire elected to chip over the top and Ryan Hall took advantage of some hesitation by Scott Grix to race clear and win the silverware for Leeds.
4. St Helens 19-18 Bradford (2002)
This was without doubt the most complete Grand Final in the competition’s history. Second half tries from Robbie Paul and Michael Withers meant Saints were asked to chase the game, but that’s what they do best. A Martin Gleeson try and a Long penalty levelled the game before Long won the crown by nailing a drop-goal with less than a minute to go. But the controversy didn’t end there as Bradford were denied a match-winning penalty when Chris Joynt appeared to commit a voluntary tackle in the final seconds. Referee Russell Smith decided not to blow and Ian Millward’s side won their third title in four years.
3. Castleford 23-22 St Helens (2017)
Old Trafford was on the line in 2017 when Castleford, the league’s dominant force that year, took on St Helens at the Jungle. The Tigers initially controlled the game, building a 20-10 lead thanks to some delightful tries, but a scintillating seven-minute spell from Saints gave them the lead going into the final stages. Crucially, Mark Percival missed four conversions and when Ryan Morgan gave away a needless penalty with only seconds to go, Man of Steel Luke Gale kicked the game into golden point extra time. Having produced eye-catching moments week in week out throughout the season, it was fitting Gale would send Castleford to their first Grand Final with a beautifully struck drop-goal, creating scenes of delirium among the home fans.
2. Warrington 24-26 Leeds (2011)
It finally looked to be their year as after storming to the League Leaders’ Shield, Warrington chose to play fifth-place Leeds in the infamous ‘club call’ back in 2011. Old Trafford was the prize for the winners but having struggled all year, the Rhinos were fully expected to be put to the sword by the relentless Wolves. It didn’t work out that way though as Leeds once again saved their biggest performance for when it mattered most as big-game players Brent Webb, Ryan Hall, Rob Burrow and Danny McGuire turned it on to give the Rhinos the lead in the final quarter. In a game that had everything, it was fitting that Chris Reilly’s try saw the sides go into the final 10 minutes level at 24-all, and then we had the controversy. With less than two minutes to go, touch judge James Child spotted a Warrington offside which gave Kevin Sinfield the chance to take the Rhinos back to the Theatre of Dreams. He held his nerve to convert and break Wire hearts in devastating fashion.
1. St Helens 10-8 Leeds (2007)
The Saints-Leeds rivalry of the late 2000s ignited in this titanic battle at Knowsley Road. The competition’s top two sides served up one of the most brutal games of rugby league and left everything on the line with a place in the Grand Final up for grabs. The two best attacks in the league were tactically outdone by their respective defences, and it took two moments of pure quality from Lee Smith and Leon Pryce to cross for the only two tries of this pulsating game. Matty Smith’s three kicks to Kevin Sinfield’s two proved to be the difference, with Webb denied by a heroic Matt Gidley tackle in the dying moments. The 10-8 final score might not read ‘classic’ on paper, but this game was what rugby league should be about, having to go over and beyond to score a try. Saints coach Daniel Anderson summed it up best after the game, saying: “that’s what separates our sport from any other”. It’s unlikely we will see a game of this standard in Super League ever again.